Defending the Constitution: Let’s Start With the 14th Amendment

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By Emanuela P. Leaf

Donald Trump released his immigration plan in mid-August, calling for a wall to be built across the southern U.S. border (to be paid for by Mexico) and other measures to step up enforcement and limit immigration, both illegal and legal.

Among the proposals: he says he wants to “end birthright citizenship,” saying it “remains the biggest magnet for illegal immigration.” That’s contradicted by research that shows jobs and economic opportunity are the biggest draws for those coming to the U.S. illegally.

Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, an independent think tank, told Fact, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters, that research has consistently found economic factors are the big determinants of illegal immigration. “If you read a few hundred academic articles, I don’t think you’ll find one that identifies the desire to have children in the U.S. … as a significant factor in people’s thinking,” he said.

Birthright citizenship refers to the fact that a child born on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen under the Constitution, even if both of the parents are not in the country legally. The parents still aren’t citizens and can’t be sponsored for a green card by their child until that child is 21; in other words, the law mandates a 21-year waiting period before either parent could gain any immigration benefit through a U.S.-born child.

According to a 2011 Pew Research Center poll, Latino immigrants — both legal and unauthorized — didn’t cite birthright citizenship as a reason for coming to the U.S. Instead, 55 percent said “economic opportunities” brought them to the United States. Twenty-four percent cited “family reasons.” The poll didn’t include more detail on what exactly those “family reasons” were; Rosenblum said some people reuniting with family members come to the U.S. illegally because of the long wait times for family visas.

There is ample evidence that the health of the U.S. economy, and therefore the availability of jobs, is what primarily drives immigration. The number of immigrants with illegal status has remained around 11.3 million for the past five years, according to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends project, a period of slow economic recovery.

The Migration Policy Institute has similar estimates on the number of immigrants here illegally, and its figures, too, show an ebb and flow with the economy. “During the 1990s, the unauthorized population rose substantially, doubling from 3.5 million to 7 million. It continued to increase during the 2000s, reaching a peak of 12.2 million in 2007, then fell to 11 million during and after the recession,” the Institute said in an August 2015 report.

If the “biggest magnet for illegal immigration” was the ability to get citizenship because of a child born here — after a 21-year waiting period that is — there should be more women (mothers) than men among those living in the country illegally – right? But Pew’s Hispanic Trends project has found that men outnumber women among this population in childbearing age groups.

There has been an increase in the percentage of those here illegally living with U.S.-born children, going from 30 percent in 2000 to 38 percent in 2012. However, Pew attributes that to a sizable increase in the share who have lived in the U.S. long-term. In 2000, 35 percent of unauthorized immigrant adults had lived in the country for 10 years or more; in 2012, that share was 62 percent.

But notwithstanding all the studies cited above here are more realities:

  • The overall price tag of Trump’s plan would be $166 billion
  • Trump is the grandson and son of immigrants and is currently married to an immigrant
  • Two years ago, when Trump met with immigration activists who told them their stories and asked for his support, he told them as the meeting ended, “You convinced me.”

In Trump’s Immigration Plan, under the “Defend the Laws and Constitution of the United States” section, he writes, “America will only be great as long as America remains a nation of laws that lives according to the Constitution. No one is above the law.”

Citizenship in the United States is a matter of federal law, governed by the United States Constitution. Since the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution on July 9, 1868, the citizenship of persons born in the United States has been controlled by its Citizenship Clause, which states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

Apparently, to Mr. Trump, the “No one is above the law” part of his plan does not apply to him. He seems to believe that with enough money he can distort facts, hide his hypocrisy, call an entire community of people rapists and even re-write the Constitution.

But Mr. Trump and I agree in part on one thing: America will only be great as long as it remains a nation of laws that lives according to the Constitution. But I say let’s start by leaving the 14th amendment alone and giving our Declaration of Independence a quick read, just to remind us of what really makes us great, a place in which people from all over the world want to be a part.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

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